The Family Business
Tamara Chalabi’s memoir sidesteps her father’s role in the Iraq invasion
Late for Tea at the Deer Palace:
The Lost Dreams of My Iraqi Family
by Tamara Chalabi
$27.99 List Price
The 2003 US invasion of Iraq began just as the persuasive exile Ahmad Chalabi desired. His vision, shared by neoconservative policymakers back in Washington, was that once US troops got “rid of Saddam for us,” as he put it, he himself would drive into Baghdad triumphantly, welcomed by throngs of adoring Iraqis. Chalabi, who hadn’t been to Iraq since 1958, when he was thirteen years old, patterned the idea on Charles de Gaulle’s return to Paris during World War II with the Free French.
But things didn’t exactly come off as Chalabi had planned. The US Air Force did fly the millionaire from Kurdistan to southern Iraq, with a group of “Free Iraqi Forces,” but then wiser heads prevailed: The American regime in Iraq ignored him, and he never managed to take power. Accompanying Chalabi on his US-taxpayer-funded return was his eldest daughter, Tamara Chalabi, then twenty-nine years old.
Since then, she has developed a writing career. She published her Ph.D. thesis, about Shiites in Lebanon, as a book. During one of Iraq’s elections, she wrote about her father’s campaign for Slate. (He won less than 1 percent of the popular vote.) Now Tamara has written a book about her Iraqi family and about Iraq. The younger Chalabi is a capable researcher and an evocative writer, though perhaps it is good to be cautious when the rich chronicle their own lineage. Late for Tea at the Deer Palace recounts the Chalabi family’s odyssey through the twentieth century. It is a somewhat rose-colored story that underscores the family’s allegiance to the Ottoman Empire and then its alliance with the